If Crimes and Misdemeanors isn’t Woody Allen’s best blending of drama and comedy, it’s most certainly in the running (and beats the pants off his 2005 white bread, wholly dramatic reworking of similar material, Match Point). It may also be the filmmaker’s most intensely Jewish work. Jewishness, of course, is never far removed from any Allen film, but in Crimes and Misdemeanors he addresses it more directly than usual—even more so than in the more comedic Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), where his character dabbled in a variety of other religions in a search for meaning. (That he finally finds a reason to live by watching four Jewish comedians—the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (1933)—is hardly coincidental.)
In Crimes and Misdemeanors, however, the question of being a Jew—the beliefs it entails, the doubts generated by Jewish intellectualism, the capacity for guilt—is at the center of the film. In fact, these things are the film, from the affluent ophthalmologist (Martin Landau) who has his mistress (Anjelica Huston) murdered, to the fragility of the idealistic documentarian (Allen) pinning his faith on the works of philosopher Prof. Louis Levy (Martin S. Bergmann), to the memories of a traditional Jewish upbringing (complete with arguments for and against such a thing). It’s always sharp, often funny, and wisely leaves the exact meaning of the bleak conclusion up to the viewer. Allen films don’t get much better, and films don’t get much better than the best of Allen.